the fallacy of colorblindness

i see color.  we all do.

why then, is it so common among white people to pretend that we don't?  to insist that equality is sameness or that talking about differences is wrong?

have you every been talking with someone who is describing another person, and suddenly their voice inexplicably falls to a whisper, and they say "black" like they weren't supposed to notice?

according to the popular melting pot, colorblind worldview, everyone is the same and recognizing differences is somehow inherently racist.

but we're not all the same, are we?  we are equally deserving of rights and respect, of course--but it's foolish to presume or pretend that we all share the same perspective, experience, or access.

refusing to acknowledge color is a luxury enjoyed exclusively by people who've never been on the receiving end of personal or systemic racism.

when white people insist that all people are the same and color doesn't matter, we're choosing to ignore racial inequalities (that we may benefit from) and the unearned privileges that we take for granted and others lack.  we ignore minority stories in favor our our own imagined narrative.

if we want to move forward from past and present injustice, we can't pretend our way out.  white people need to be willing to have hard conversations about race and actually listen to perspectives of people of color.

a few years ago, i remember asking a white acquaintance who was internationally adopting a black child how she could help her child get a sense of a racial and cultural identity they did not share.  she essentially said that it would be a non-issue, since her child's primary identity was as a child of God.

how could a child's race and the obvious fact that she looked different than her family and most of her community not be an issue?

kristen, over at rage against the minivan, is mother to two white and two black children, and she has an interesting post about race, parenting, and pre-schoolers that is worth reading:  "our colorblind era of denial is not serving our children well," she says.

how do you teach your kids to be inclusive and to appreciate differences?  how do we all begin to have the kinds of conversations about race that allow us to be vulnerable, awkward, and real?  if we live in homogeneous [segregated?] communities, how can we begin to dissolve the prejudices in ourselves--and prevent passing them down to our children?


Kelly Miller said...

Fascinating! I totally make fun of people who whisper a person's race, but so many people do it.

Kelly said...

Thanks for this post! Its definitely something we are thinking a lot of lately with our little beanie now in our family. I agree with your friend...our children's identity first and foremost is as a child of God. But that being said, I don't think we would be caring well for our children if we left it at that. Selah is going to experience some things, I'm sure, her white brother and sister will not, but by God's grace, I hope and pray we can care for her well through it. And Lord willing, we'll all come out the better for it!

Mel said...

Well said. Last night I started Arabic lessons and it was really interesting learning about the motivation behind each student's decision to enrol in the class. It was lovely being surrounded by other people wanting to embrace another culture.

Dorothy said...

Wow. This is such a sticky issue, but one that's so important for us as parents to communicate effectively with our kids...

Gabriel and I were just discussing the problem of living in a part of the country where there is not much diversity (if any) and the majority of the locals have deeply rooted, and offensive, racist views. I know that's a part of living in the South, but we are worried that no matter how accepting, and even curious, of other cultures that we teach and model for our kids to be, the fact that there is a huge absence of people of other races in our area will inherently make them "others" just because they are unfamiliar. We are still wrestling with how to deal with this if we end up spending all of our kid's formative years in Arkansas...

Thanks for keeping the discussion going. So important!

bethany said...

amen, i love your thoughtfulness and believe that we absolutely need to be holding a more comprehensive dialogue about race, that does not deny differences in privilege and experience. i think us white folks have a lot to learn about racism that is inherent in our culture and systems. the more we begin to see that, perhaps the more we will begin to see the equality that we desire. i love the way you are raising your kids :) im so proud you are my sister.

Year2Year said...

Ligonier Jennifer's husband Matt here -- your post is extremely important and vital in the continuing blindness that calls itself color-blindness. I'll spare everyone the theoretical background (that's kind of what I do in the day job), but a crucial antidote to the problem you cite is to recognize "white" as a racial position itself, and not just as a-racial, or devoid of race, or as is often the case in pop culture, normal. Whiteness itself has a deep (and dominant) history of exerting its racial position as primary, and the myth of colorblindness is just one of a multitude of ways that work to support the notion that white=normal and does not need to be considered deeply. I think it's crucial to raise our kids not to recognize difference in others (which presumes normality in white), but instead to recognize that we are ALL different from each other, without any stable center to consider "normal." Your post is a fine example of how we can teach our children to move beyond racism without ignoring the fact that race remains prominent in American life.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the biggest problems with this issue is the media. They have so pounded political correctness at people and we are so afraid of being offensive that we don't acknowledge differences. I am "white" but culturally I am different than most people I know. I don't talk about my culture much at all for fear of the stereotypes. I guess here's how I see it... It's all about fear.

Fear of offending.
Fear of judgement.
Fear of being known.
Fear of the unknown.

suzannah | the smitten word said...

i really appreciate everyone's contributions to this conversation.

kelly, having a multiracial family will do so much to dispel that sense of "otherness"--what a blessing for all your kids.

dorothy, we've had several unpleasant encounters with racists here, too (including an actual kkk member). for the most part, i'd say people here are not racist, but i've seen/heard some troubling behavior and comments among teenagers who just don't know any better. lack of exposure can lead to lack of sensitivity and prejudice--and we're trying to figure out how to break out of that, too.

b, it is so easy to take privilege for granted and assume it's the same for everyone when i don't spend any time with anyone who's not like me. how do those of who don't live in multicultural communites begin to have eyes that see systemic racism?

matt, you make such a good point about how we mustn't continue to suggest or assume that white=normal and everyone else=OTHER. that's something so key that i didn't touch on.

anon, i can definitely see how political correctness creates fear and silence--doing more harm than good. i guess the question is, how can we create safe spaces (within relationships and culturally) where we can truly begin to know and be known?

Lisa Lockwood said...

There's a great book called "Divided by Faith" ( which basically sheds light on the fact that the protestant church is one of the most racially divided institutions in this country. It indicates that the WASP view that we're all children of God created in the image of the same God has led to some significant "colorblindness" to the systemic issues in out country that have led to huge racial divides. We don't want to acknowledge that things are not equal, so we're not doing anything to solve the problems. You boot straps are the same length as mine, right?

Brenna @ Almost All The Truth said...

What an interesting conversation! I have read several posts about colorblindness and how to talk about race with your kids posts this year. I still struggle with how to approach it, particularly since we live in a very, very white part of the country. How do you teach that concept of white does not mean normal and non-white mean other? Great food for thought...

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